In these trying times of social distancing and stay-at-home orders quarantines it’s easy to fear. Until we look at the past and see that this is not the worst pandemic that humanity has faced. One of the most notable of these occurred 102 years ago with the outbreak of the 1812 flu. More commonly known as the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu was arguably more devastating to the world then the modern coronavirus, yet humanity survived. Despite the great divide of time between these two pandemics there’s a great deal that both have in common.
The first notable difference between the two is the known origin. The coronavirus it is well known and document that it originated in Wuhan, China. Conversely, there is no definite origin point for the Spanish flu. The reason this flu was named after Spain was due to false impression, as a result of World War I. In order to maintain morale a censor order was in effect in the allied countries. Which was to downplay casualties and sickness of soldiers fighting in Europe.
The same order was not in effect in neutral country of Spain. Thus the papers there were able to freely report on the severity of the sickness. The result of this was the impression that Spain was the origin point of the virus. In reality modern science has no way of identifying the initial outbreak. While there are strong theories there is no conclusive evidence.
A notable similarity between the two viruses is how rapidly it spread around the world. Despite the notable longer travel time in 1918 the virus. Still thanks to the modern travel industry, of the time, spread rapidly. Over the course of four years, before it disappeared, spread across the entirety of the world. And infected an estimated 500 million people, one third the world’s population at the time. In the same manner the coronavirus has travel across the world in a short time due to modern travel methods such as airlines. Though it has only infected at this time worldwide and estimated 2,843,811 people.
Another notable difference between the viruses is the number of casualties or deaths caused by the viruses. The Spanish flu cost an estimated 50 million deaths. Conversely, the coronavirus worldwide as only claimed 197,770 lives so far. Though there are some factors that cannot be accurately applied at this time, such as the duration of the pandemic. The higher death rate of the Spanish flu compared to the coronavirus can still be explained through other factors.
Most notably government response, when the Spanish flu first emerged many governments denied its existence or downplayed the severity. With a few exceptions to the rule, New York City, the same was not true of the coronavirus. Other factors that contributed to the Spanish flu’s higher mortality rates . How it spread through the trenches of World War I, general malnutrition, and poor quarantine procedures.
Many of the lessons learned through the terrible tragedy of the Spanish Flu are still used in the modern day. To control modern pandemics such as the coronavirus. By imposing social distancing or stay-at-home orders the virus has been guided to mutate into. In theory, less infectious versions of itself. This is also led to a general halt of travel which further slow the spread of the virus. The wearing of masks then as now also help to curb the spread.
There can be no doubt that people living in those days were scared just as we are scared now.
However, it is also clear to see that they found a way through the pandemic. It’s probably no exaggeration to say that many of the lessons learned during the Spanish flu have helped prevent a similar outbreak with the coronavirus . It’s amazing what humans can learn by studying the past and also comforting to realize. That as a species we have survived far greater adversities then we currently face.